Franks get fancy as we reinvent the classic hot dog, four ways. This spring weather…
We’re past Anzac Day, most people have switched the heating on and, although Canberra has not failed to deliver on some gloriously bright and warm(ish) Autumn days, it might be time to put away the chilled glasses of Riesling and Chardonnay and start thinking about a drop of something red to accompany your winter cooking.
I’ll admit something right off the bat. I am completely obsessed with Pinot Noir. Really good Pinot can be difficult to find but well worth the effort once you do. Pinot is temperamental – challenging to grow and even more challenging in the winery – which leads many winemakers to liken a really great Pinot with the Holy Grail.
What makes Pinot so challenging? Pinot Noir produces small, compact bunches that close up as the grapes swell with ripening. This prevents air and sprays from entering the bunch, increasing the risk of disease; so Pinot Noir requires careful vineyard management based on prevention instead of cures. Pinot ripens relatively early in the season and suits cooler climates, so Canberra is fairly well suited to the variety. A more moderate summer and more rainfall would be ideal (which is why the Central Otago region in New Zealand produces such good Pinot).
In the winery, Pinot provides a challenge to winemakers because it is an aromatic variety and is therefore very sensitive to oxidative handling or excessively hot ferments. It also has a relatively low phenolic (compounds that affect the taste, colour and palate of a wine) content, which produces lighter colour wines and a medium tannin content. This combination requires delicate balancing by the winemaker in order to preserve the natural subtlety of the wine, something that can easily be lost in the quest for a deeper colour or richer flavours.
Pinot Noir owes its fame to the regions of Burgundy and Champagne in France. Burgundy for its ripe and delicious table wines and Champagne for its traditional sparkling wines that are generally made from a combination of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot is very prone to mutation (think Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc) and there is a huge difference in the quality of the fruit produced between the different clones. Pinot Noir arrived in Australia with James Busby in 1828 and the clone he brought with him eventually created the clone of Pinot Noir we refer to (in Australia) as “MV-6” (which literally is Mother Vine 6). Lark Hill planted MV-6 in 1984, having spent six years (1977-1983) searching for, and eventually commissioning, a nursery to propogate planting material.
Pinot Noir can produce wines coloured anywhere on the spectrum between a garnet red and a true brick red – although the brown pigments in ‘brick’ point to ageing (as with all red wines) so young Pinotsthat are brick coloured should be avoided.
Look for aromas of cherry, strawberry and beetroot. Additional complexity comes from characters such as mushroom, ‘forest floor’, prosciutto and ‘earthiness’. The flavours have similar descriptors, and good Pinots are prized for supple and vibrant palates, often with plenty of fine-grained, smoothed tannins (maybe a link to the previous tasting terms article? )
Pinot Noir ages well as its relatively high acid levels and moderate tannin content give plenty of scope for cellaring for between five and fifteen years. That said, lots of Australian Pinot Noirs are made in a style that favours drinking within two to five years, so it’s a good idea to ask for a cellaring recommendation when you’re at the Cellar Door.
Three great local Pinot Noirs
The Canberra District has a very strong reputation for producing fantastic Pinot Noirs. A few to look out for include:
Maipenrai: Brian Schmidt is a great winemaker (who also just happened to win a Nobel Prize for Physics in 2011) and is well known for his Pinot. The Maipenrai Pinot is currently sold out, but the 2012 Pinot is due to be released in October 2014. This wine is likely to sell out quickly, so make sure you get in fast. More information can be found at www.maipenrai.com.au.
Clonakilla: the 2013 Clonakilla Pinot is made using a combination of young vines and an older, unidentified clone planted by John Kirk in 1978. (Current winemaker, Tim Kirk, is John’s son). The wine offers soft perfumes and gentle tannins. More information can be found at www.clonakilla.com.au.
Lark Hill: the 2013 Lark Hill Biodynamic Pinot is fermented traditionally using natural yeasts and aged in small French oak barriques to produce a savoury style with finesse and structure. This Pinot Noir shows its vintage with ripe strawberry/cherry notes, a sumptuous palate and fine grained tannins. Still young, this wine will reward cellaring for many years to come. More information can be found at www.larkhillwine.com.au
Image of red wine from shutterstock.com